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Sunday, May 1, 2016

'It's bigger than one game'

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Senior Kolten Everts led a senior class that won nearly 90 percent of its game over the past four years. [Order this photo]
ROACHDALE -- As their county rivals celebrated the biggest upset in recent Putnam County football, there had to be a feeling among North Putnam fans it wasn't supposed to end this way.

But South Putnam had other ideas, using a big second half to defeat the Cougars 40-22 and take the Class 2A Sectional 30 title in a big upset.

It was especially shocking for North Putnam's senior class. Seventeen young men who won 88 percent (44-6) of their games over four years were suddenly out of the tournament.

Asked to reflect on the men who led his 11-1 team, coach Brian Crabtree was effusive in his praise.

"We have some outstanding football players. I don't know that it's right to single anybody out because they're such an outstanding group," Crabtree said. "The leadership they've provided to this football program has been immeasurable. I wish it would've worked out differently, I wish I could've gotten it done for them."

It's a cliché among coaches not to single out certain players, but Crabtree would struggle to single anyone out. Where would one start with this team?

Would it be Hank Spencer? He of the 149 runs for 1,034 yards and 17 touchdowns? Add to that more than 75 tackles. Spencer was a workhorse for the Cougars on both sides of the ball.

Quarterback Kolten Everts is another one worthy of note. The signal caller completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,487 yards, 20 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

Jake Smerage was always good for a big play, finishing the year with 16 touchdowns and an average of 25 yards per catch.

Nate Bryan was Spencer's partner in crime on defense with nearly 100 tackles, three interceptions and a pair of sacks on the season.

Tyler Shorter, Allain St. Victor-Duncan and Nic Stanley were all weapons for this offense.

Ten other young men have their own stories of what makes them special to this class.

So Crabtree is right, it is hard to single anyone out.

Instead, looking at the group, the Cougars bid farewell to 44 wins, a 21-1 WCC mark (including three conference titles), a sectional, regional and semi-state title, a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium and a whole lot of good football over the last four years.

"Our kids have nothing to hang their head about, they have nothing to be ashamed of," Crabtree said. "This isn't about anything they did wrong."

Instead, Crabtree focused on what the seniors have done for the North Putnam program in carrying on a winning tradition during his first year at the helm.

"The program has been built on a solid foundation. It's bigger than one game. It's bigger than any one individual, certainly," Crabtree said. "It's going to continue to thrive because of the contribution these seniors made over four years."

Even in reflecting on what might be the biggest win of a 14-year coaching career, and certainly the biggest win in his six years at South Putnam, Eagle coach Troy Burgess had to first take a moment to acknowledge the team on the other side.

"First off all, let's say the obvious here -- North Putnam is a great football team. They have great athletes, they're very well coached, so that's just the obvious. And for our kids to do what they did tonight -- wow," Burgess said.

His words speak to the Cougars' dominance of Putnam County football over the last six years. They've posted five undefeated regular seasons and hadn't lost an intra-county game in 23 tries before Friday.

They've carried the tradition through three coaches and six senior classes.

Crabtree doesn't plan for the run of good football and good character to end anytime soon.

"Great things are in the future," he said. "It's not just wins or losses, what happens on the field. It's everything off the field. You couldn't ask for a better group of players, coaches and a community to work with.

"They're awesome young men. They have incredible character. This whole program is great to be a part of."